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WHAT TO READ WHILE YOU'RE WAITING
By Martin B. Deutsch
January 16, 2014 -- With bad weather making delays an appalling on-the-road traveling companion so far this year, Joe Brancatelli suggests several DVD collections to help pass the time. I prefer having a good book or two handy while waiting out the next flight delay in an airline lounge or an airport coffee bar.
Although not by design, the book reviews below are all set in Europe, particularly Sweden, Norway, Austria and England. And all are thrillers fashioned to provide enjoyable reading for the road warrior.
WALLANDER IN PRINT
The worldwide success of Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has unsurprisingly generated a great deal of interest in Scandinavian police thrillers and mysteries.
In the United States, this interest has been fueled by PBS' airing of the British Wallander series featuring Kenneth Branagh as the brooding and occasionally depressed lead. I found this series plodding and dense--a minority opinion, I know, given its success. Undeterred by my somewhat unfavorable take on the show, however, I nevertheless decided to tackle some of the original Wallander stories in their print versions by Swedish author Henning Mankell.
I read both the first book in this ambitious crime series, The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases, and what until recently appeared to be the final chapter in this 11-tome journey, The Troubled Man. Although a new novel was published in Sweden a few months ago, The Troubled Man showed us an aging Wallander dispirited and seemingly ready to pack it in.
Although The Troubled Man isn't the last entry, our hero was certainly preparing to go out on a realistic note. That brings me to a related point: If these stories have one discernible flaw, it is that the endings are often contrived and rapidly executed, giving this reader the feeling that the author doesn't know how to get out of some of these tales.
I've been told by an avid Wallander fan that the author feels that not all of life's loose ends are necessarily tied up into a neat bundle. I can vouch for the fact that Mankell frequently uses this excuse to bow out of a story, however well told.
A superficial summary of the unrelated Wallander tales in The Pyramid probably goes something like this.
The opening salvo is titled Wallander's First Case, a story in which the 21-year-old detective tries to unravel a complicated case that involves precious jewels and a stabbing. It all leads to Wallander himself being stabbed. He obviously survives--Mr. Mankell is not living on welfare. Straightforward, well-written and, like all the Wallander stories, both intriguing and likeable.
The Man With the Mask involves several hard-to-solve murders--there are no clues--but Wallander prevails and the conclusion is actually logical.
The Man at the Beach is also quite clever and puzzling, up to a point. The villain walks the beach in question with a handsome dog. Does this canine have anything to do with the case? Stay tuned.
The Death of the Photographer involves a twisted plot, some peculiar artwork, adultery and, ultimately, retribution.
The title story, The Pyramid, may be the most fascinating of the five. It raises this question: Does the crash of a nonexistent (or at least unregistered) private plane, in which the pilot and his passenger both die, have anything to do with the brutal murders of two seemingly gentle elderly sisters? It's quite a story.
The Troubled Man finds Wallander trying to track down a missing naval officer who's also the father of his daughter's fiancé. He also must solve the subsequent disappearance of the officer's enigmatic wife. Is she really who she pretends to be? The Troubled Man leaves me somewhat troubled at the end with those recurring loose ends. But all in all, it's a most satisfying read.
Troublesome endings or not, I'm now hooked on Wallander to the extent that I plan to read the other novels in the series. Excepting the newest one, all have been translated into English and were published in the United States between 1997 and 2011.
Although the Wallander novels have been situated in and around Sweden, Norway is not to be overlooked. Jo Nesbo's The Redbreast is a brilliantly plotted and eloquently written story that carefully links Norwegian volunteers in the Nazi military in World War II with murderous doings in modern-day Oslo. First published in the United States in 2007, it features police detective Harry Hole, an easy-going, likeable misfit who's been the protagonist of ten Nesbo novels.
This time around Hole finds himself involved with a cornucopia of issues: the current version of skinheads; the murder of his partner, a brave, brainy and highly respected woman; and a mysterious old man who may be one of the Norwegians who fought for Hitler on the Russian front.
The Redbreast is a terrific read and many consider the less well-known Nesbo Scandinavia's best crime fiction writer. But there is a caveat: a somewhat unconvincing ending. Maybe it's all the time reading about those long, cold, dark Scandinavian winters that makes me critical about how these tales end.
Can't get enough of Hole's adventures? Police!, the latest Harry Hole thriller, was released in the United States last fall.
WAITING FOR SUNRISE
In recent decades, I've developed a taste for most of the novels and short stories issuing from the versatile pen of William Boyd, the award-winning author of books such as Brazzaville Beach, A Good Man in Africa and An Ice Cream War. And although I have some reservations about the viability of the plot resolutions, I nevertheless enjoyed one of his more recent works, Waiting for Sunrise.
Published in 2012, the four-part novel is set primarily in Vienna, London and Geneva between 1913 and 1915, the years just before and at the beginning of World War I. The hero, Lysander Rief, is an up-and-coming young actor who hails from London and a fashionable family. He is temporarily domiciled in Vienna and under the care of a shrink for a mysterious sexual malady. However, this issue remains unresolved until he slips into a heady romance with another of the good doctor's patients, the lovely, passionate and enigmatic Hettie Bull. She's also living with a jealous and easily angered artist.
Although the lineup of characters remains pretty much intact, in part two we shift to London, where Lysander has been recruited into the British spy service. His task: Find a mole who has been betraying secrets to the Germans. This portion of Waiting for Sunrise doesn't employ the verve and imagination of earlier chapters, but it is still quite readable and often surprising. I give nothing away when I tell you that while in Vienna, Lysander broke his engagement to a well-known British actress, a romance that may eventually be rekindled when he returns to England.
Somewhere along the way, Lysander is shot and seriously wounded by an attractive female agent from his own spy service. She later resurfaces in London. Also back in London, in this complicated game, we find Lysander's therapist from Vienna and the two spy colleagues who originally recruited him.
That's more than enough of the storyline to garner your interest. Despite a convoluted plot, it is a breezy and entertaining read.
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ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.